February 17, 2006
Google Files Brief in Search Data Case
Google has filed its brief defending its action in refusing to turn search information over to the United States Justice Department. The DOJ is trying to use the data to support the Child Online Protection Act that the 3rd Circuit has declared unconstitutional. The Supreme Court later held that the law required a full trial to determine its constitutionality.
The theory is to use the search data to show that filters are not effective in protecting children from pornography. Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL have already turned over data but not any that's tied to personal information. For some privacy advocates it is a short step to the government making that type of request. Representative Ed Markey (D-Ma) introduced a bill in congress that would require web sites to delete visitor information
Google is defending itself on the grounds that turning over the data would reveal trade secrets to its competitors, that the request raises red flags in consumers which would cause them to avoid Google. The company also criticized the government as unsophisticated about technology and accuses it of a fishing expedition.
A hearing will be held by U.S. District Judge James Ware in the Northern District of California on March 13th. The Justice Department has until February 24th to respond.
Update: A copy of Google's brief is here.
February 16, 2006
FirstGov Search Engine Upgraded
The government has turned search services over to Microsoft and Vivisimo, Inc. The cost is $1.8 million a year, much less than the $3.2 million the government spent maintaining search services on its own. Reports indicate that the new search engine is much better than the old, with more relevant results.
Virus Targets Apple OS
TechWorld has a report of a virus that targets Mac Computers through Apple's IM iChat client. The virus is called the "Leap-A" by Sophos and forwards itself in a file called "latestpics.tgz." As with many Windows virus infections, users clicking on the file triggers the infection.
The virus doesn't actually do anything other than prove that the Mac OS can be infected. This implies, however, that more may be on the way, and these may have more severe consequences.
The story is here.
Update: This article in Macworld gives a better impression of the danger of this virus compared to the article in TechWorld.
CD Ripping Not Fair Use Says RIAA
Even if you bought it and paid full list price. Ars Technica is reporting about a brief filed with the United States Copyright Office in the triennial review of the effectiveness of the DMCA. The brief argues that the fact that consumers cannot make backups of purchased media is uncompelling. Basically, if a consumer wants a second backup, he or she should buy another copy. Backups are unnecessary as the media provided by the industry does not have a high failure rate. Not only that, but second copies are available at affordable prices. And even though consumers have made copies of discs in the past doesn't mean they have been authorized to do so. That, of course, is the RIAA's view.
The article goes on to contrast this point of view with contradictory statements in briefs and arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States in the Grokster case.
February 15, 2006
House Subcommittee Lashes Out At Tech Giants
The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations and the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific held hearings today where representatives of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Cisco testified. The hearings were based on reports of cooperating with the Chinese government that led to the jailing or censorship of dissidents. The companies defended their cooperation with the government on the grounds that they have to cooperate with local laws in order to do business.
Yahoo! general counsel, Michael J. Callahan, noted that when the government had asked Yahoo! for information that led to the jailing of Shi Tao, they did not state their intentions.
Most of the members of the subcommittee blasted the cooperation by these companies with what they see as a repressive regime. Other critics from Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders echoed those feelings, suggesting that industry self-regulation wasn't enough, that U.S. government oversight is also necessary. Members of the panel indicated that congress would consider passing laws to address this situation.
February 14, 2006
State Department Sets Up Online Speech Task Force
The State Department has set up a task force to help U.S. technology companies support free speech online in foreign countries. This is in light of disclosures that Yahoo gave the Chinese government information that led to the jailing of two activists, that Microsoft censored the blog of a Chinese dissident, and that Google censored its .cn web portal, all at the behest of the Chinese government. Cisco is mentioned from time to time as their routers help make it all happen.
Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky was quoted as saying "Many technology companies … want to work to help those who lack the freedom that we often take for granted. If we band together, we can make significant progress on this issue."
Perhaps some of the freedoms we take for granted include having our email scanned by a government security agency, matched up with personal data collected by third parties, and the demand for aggregate search data requested in an attempt to uphold a law courts have struck down on more than one occasion. Perhaps we can teach the Chinese something about that.
How Flame Wars Start
The problem with email, other than spam, of course, is that the words on the page do not convey the nuances of the writer's voice and tone. Emoticons were invented to some extent to add that emotional flavor to casual text. Emoticons, however, did not gain traction with the email writing public. Without something better, the recipient has to interpret the meaning behind the text.
Most people think that their recipients will get the tone of the message right about 80% of the time. Recently, a study by Nicholas Eply and Justin Kruger published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology say that people tend to get it right a little over 50% of the time. The sender writes with tone and emotion in his or her head and assumes that they are obvious to the reader. The study paired senders and recipients and tested the levels of accuracy in communication.
Two-Tiered Internet Feared Over Internet Email Charges
Professor Michael Geist writes that the proposal by AOL and Yahoo to go to a certified email system raises the specter of a two-tiered Internet. Read it at the BBC.
February 13, 2006
Government Grants Site is Windows-Only
The government plans to give out approximately $400 billion in grants which organizations can search and apply for online at grants.gov. However, if you run a Mac or any other non-Microsoft operating system, you're out of luck. Only those who use Windows can use the site effectively. It will be a year or so until the software catches up to Macs.
How did this happen? The government awarded the contract to Northrop Grumman to build the site, and they in turn, sub-contracted out to a Canadian firm called Pure Edge to create the electronic forms. And they did, for Windows only. Until the Mac forms are created, the two workarounds are to use a Citrix web server or Windows emulation software. Neither solution, so far, work very well.
The Washington Post has the full story here.
Google Tests Corporate Email Hosting
Google has started a beta program that uses Gmail as the back end of a hosted email service. The name Google or gmail does not appear as part of the address, rather it would contain the host domain of the subscriber. This is great for a company or a university that wants a web presence (read "everybody") but didn't want to run their own web post office. According to reports, San Jose City College is one of the testers.